In her church of thousands, Susan Radulovacki felt alone.
She and her husband were dealing with the stress and pain of infertility and struggled with not finding a community within the church where they could share their experiences. And so when they joined a new church, Peachtree Presbyterian in Atlanta, Radulovacki vowed to be open about her infertility to help others avoid the isolation she had felt.
After seeing a note in the church bulletin about a group for infertile couples, Radulovacki felt compelled to attend. Even though she had children by that point, she hoped she could offer support or comfort to couples who were struggling as she had.
Radulovacki went to a meeting and sat with a group of women. During the meeting, she felt nudged to share something that had popped into her head — that the women were already pregnant, pregnant with hope. She told them that God had already planted a seed of hope within them and that they should trust in God. Radulovacki was later asked to lead the class, and in praying about what she could possibly add, she was bombarded with ideas and scripture.
It was in that moment that the idea for a new Bible study was born.
The study took shape over several years, eventually leading to a book, Pregnant With Hope, and a website all with the mission of sharing the “good news for infertile couples.”
Shattering the silence
When couples first walk in to the class, they’re usually sad and demoralized, Radulovacki said. They’ve often turned to God as a last resort and come in broken and humbled.
“God can work with that,” she said of couples’ initial demeanor, adding that it’s rewarding to see how they change during the Bible study. “It’s like having a front-row seat to glory.”
Finding a community within the church can be a real relief for infertile couples, who can feel ignored or judged by the church. Within the church communities, there’s an unconscious, unspoken belief that children are a sign of God’s blessing, Radulovacki said. So when couples don’t have children, they often question if they’re being punished by God. And the church doesn’t offer many outlets for talking about infertility and what it means.
“Because there’s not open conversation, people very quickly get caught in these loops of doubt, of fear,” she said.
Infertile couples also can struggle with feelings of guilt, resentment, confusion and anger, Radulovacki said. Some couples also are frustrated that hard work and persistence doesn’t seem to be paying off.
“All of a sudden, there’s this goal you can’t reach and you don’t know why and nobody else does either,” she said.
Adding to these problems is that fact that many clergy don’t know how to address these problems.
Stephen Hayner, president of Columbia Theological Seminary, agreed that infertility is an “ignored issue” in the church.
“This is just an area that is not particularly well dealt with,” he said. “These are issues that are often huge and go unaddressed in most very family-centered congregations.”
But not talking about infertility leaves many couples frozen in silence, Radulovacki said.
“A lot of what I want to do is just shatter the silence,” she said.
A resource for hope
In her work with the Bible study at Peachtree, Radulovacki got to know a Methodist minister and his wife. The group is open to people of all faiths or of no faith, so many people from outside the church have attended. The inister’s wife pressed Radulovacki to gather stories of couples in the group and compile them in a book.
Radulovacki approached several couples, unsure if any would be willing to have their private stories published. But to her surprise, they poured their hearts out to her, even using their real names in the book, Pregnant With Hope.
If the silence is truly going to be shattered, couples must come forward, Radulovacki said.
In the book, 10 couples are interviewed. They tell the story of how they met and got married and then discuss their struggles with infertility. Some talk about how this struggle affected their faith life and their marriages and what the Bible study meant to them.
Each couple’s story comes at the end of a chapter, and each story is meant to correlate with the message of the preceding chapter. The chapters address stages of the infertility journey, such as “Feeling Desperate,” “Discovering Peace” and “Finding the Way.”
Radulovacki said she tried to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in writing and editing the book and interviews and that the whole experience was like dictation — she did a lot of listening.
“It’s the coolest thing ever. I know it isn’t me,” she aid. “I feel like the UPS guy and I have this really important package to deliver. I know who it’s from.”
Pregnant With Hope focuses on proceeding in God-honoring ways. It shows couples that infertility is not a curse and that there is reason for hope.
And it’s also a valuable resource for relatives and friends of infertile couples. The study advocates walking alongside couples, not giving advice. Many times, loved ones want to fix the problem, but that can come off as judging and pressuring couples, who are often fragile, Radulovacki said.
“It’s not about fixing it for them. It’s not about pitying them,” she said, adding that she encourages friends and family to be available to listen to couples, but also to be able to leave them alone when they need space.
Pregnant With Hope is also valuable for clergy, Hayner said. In seminary, students might learn some ways to talk about infertility in lessons on pastoral care or seasons of life, but it is largely unaddressed, he said.
“I don’t think people have taken it seriously as a spiritual issue … and yet it’s in the pages of scripture,” he said.
Although the book doesn’t go in depth into choices and ethical issues about fertility procedures, it helps pastors and couples enter into some of the practical issues surrounding fertility, Hayner said.
“The examples (Radulovacki) chooses really cover the large issues of this landscape,” he said.
A community of support
For Wilson and Sarah Covington, having the support of others was key to their struggle with infertility. They’re interviewed in Pregnant With Hope and have been involved in the Bible study group since 2006.
Although Sarah had grown up in Peachtree and was active in church activities, she found it hard to find others who understood what she was going through with infertility. But in the group, she was able to talk to other couples.
Wilson initially went to the group to support Sarah. When he first walked in, he could tell that every other man also didn’t want to be there, and it felt good to be able to open up to other men.
The group has encouraged the couple to talk more openly about infertility. At a recent outing for his birthday, Wilson struck up a conversation with a bartender who was struggling with infertility. He ended up recommending the Bible study group to her.
“I feel like God is really using us,” Sarah said.
The Covingtons now have twins, a boy and a girl, conceived through in vitro fertilization.
Sarah encouraged other women to not blame themselves for infertility.
“I really believe that God puts this desire in you to be a mom,” she said.
Peachtree conducts the Bible study group, called &ldquo.Faith, Hope and Love: A Study For Couples Facing Infertility,” twice a year. The next cycle will begin March 14.
For couples or churches who’d like to start their own infertility Bible studies, the Pregnant With Hope website offers a discussion leader guide. There is also a blog on which readers can comment and discuss